kinchtheknifeblade's sandbox
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Beneath her feet, cicada shells lay resplendent, numerous, myriad. A crunch like autumn leaves. The sky was pinkish, autumnal. Her

(hers?)

trees were all dying. But the good kind of death. A slow death. But the kind of death you come back from. The clean death of—

There was so much wood. It filled her nose in great gusts, and it was so much she'd be sure that the flakes from the bark and the cicada shells would needlenose deep down into her brain in the sockets of her body like an attack, like a cancer from the outside and

(wait)

How did she get here? These woods were unfamiliar. Woods were unfamiliar.

Veronica Fitzroy did not understand why she would have been walking out in the damp, in the cool. In the inhospitable breadth of nature's arms.

Viscera. Nature's viscera. There was red. Pouring from the trees like sap. She set her palm on the tree, and it pulsed. Hand retracted in revulsion. The bark came away like wet paper, sticking on her hand. Deer blood?

(what do you know about deer)

The shells were alive. Chittering, clattering, cracking over each other. Pinning to her legs, to her tights, climbing upward. Screams. They felt like they came from the trees.

She focused all of her attention to her head, to her brain, to her eyes. A practiced blink.

Still in the woods. But the trees didn't bleed. The cicada shells were leaves. Again? Or maybe for the first time. Brown, beneath her. Three points to each. Three speared. Blades.

A man was in the trees, but he could have been the trees or been within the trees since before she even came. He was supposed to be there, and it was okay that he was there.

It was a man. A normal man. Like someone's dad. Like Izzy's dad. But a bit more pudge. And glasses. And different hair. Maybe not Izzy's dad. But the wind of Izzy's dad. That dadly force.

(wake up and don't talk wake up and don't talk wake up and don't talk)

“Hi,” she said, in this her woods. “Do you live here, too?”

The man nodded. But the sound was a TOK-TOK-TOK. A hyoshigi. Like a kabuki play. And for a moment, the white facepaint accented in red fled across his face.

Bearded, glasses. Wings. A regular dad in a comfortable sweater. Red and dark green striped. Chittering, chittering. The sound of wings touching wings. The buzz of a bug caught between screen and

(carnival?)

glass.

“You make music, don't you?” it asked finally. The lenses of its glasses were green and red and purple and blue, and it took her too long to notice they were stained glass. Spelling out the names of saints. Scenes of fantastic mastery over Pagan excesses. Deep darkness, colored bright and shining and infinite.

“Yeah.”

“With a special touch, too, don't you?” It knew the answer. Slinked close to her. Fingers brushed with chitinous hairs touched hers, and she flinched. Too close. In too short a time. But she still could barely see the outline of his wings. The darkness, so colorful, so bright, followed him like a halo. Glitch on a VHS tape. A blur with lines of color, all hooded and cut out of reality into something else, blinking stupidly and blankly and unknowingly in the vastness of the all there was.

“Yes.” A voice that wasn't hers. An answer not verbalized, but spoken through wood and leaf and glass? Where was the glass if not his eyes? Locked into hers. Joining within her body. Probing, but leaving so much behind. Notes. Numbers. Signs. Phonemes. Jumbled, and so many. Countless. All at once. Crammed down, shouted like every parenthesis was a dagger in her gut.

(you've never felt in a dream before have you)

She would have screamed.

How does a bug smile?

“Do you take commissions then?”


Cousin Johnny relished the way muscles felt when they stretched. Smile. Frown. There was a kind of music in them. A subtlety that would have been so easy to miss. A frown was so close to a smile. Nearly identical, really. A minuscule difference. But he thought that he had truly mastered it.

The priest, the father, the skinny little man with the white collar and the whiter hair, combed up and toward the side like it hid the fact that he was balding. Johnny wished, quite dearly, that he could reach out and touch it. Rip them out from the core. Tear them out as he screams. Make him say thank you. Make him love him and force the hair down his throat, have the old piece of shit fooling no one devour the remnants of what was never close to a lustrous mane.

But no. That was not the business at hand.

This was serious. Salvation was for later.

“I'm sorry. What did you say?”

“It's quite alright to be distracted. I understand the loss of both parents can be a lot for one man to go through. Do you have any siblings, Johnny?”

“No. Mom and dad, well, they never were able to get into it all again after I came. A little bit too much trouble to get the bedroom goin'. Sorry about that, father. Couldn't resist.”

The priest blinked and blushed. How sweet his blood would dazzle and razzle against the floor, against his cheeks suddenly flush white, and fuck, was that a tremor of excitement? How sweet his teeth would feel, crunching and breaking. The sign of his adulthood, of his entrance into the world of God and Man. Confirmation by blood. Blood mouth.

Johnny's stomach gurgled. He didn't enjoy that. The body he had borrowed, a child he had long ago touched, put the bit of spirit into the little bastard, and kept the holy holies going until there was a perfect Johnny shaped hole to step into. It still had needs. Needs that Johnny resented. To be God and Man was weakness. Perfect strength in weakness. Happened once, and so again.

Oh god, and the collar. The priest's collar would be wonderful. All white. Red and black, if Johnny slit his throat. Like a little cardinal, and—

“J-Johnny, are you okay?” Pale. Trembling.

What did the priest know of fear? What did the priest know of eons? But, Johnny took gauge of himself. Was he, was he being strange? Maybe. He was a little excited. It was so close, after all. So very fucking close. So one could excuse him for being a little loose.

Perhaps the sweating did it in. Johnny looked at his hands. Trembling.

“I'm sorry. It's just, you don't know my mom and dad, Father. I just, I just don't think they'd want a big how to, you know? Something. Gosh, if we could, my dad'd want Eucharist replaced with beer and pretzels, but I supposed I'd have to petition the Holy Father for that one, huh?” And Johnny slapped his stomach hard enough for the slap to ring throughout the empty house.

The priest winced.

The rectory smelled like the elderly, even though the father was certainly not a year older than fifty-two. Johnny was struck by how easy it would have been to take the man's life. To turn the smells into something else. Putrid but sweet and high in the air, almost alluring in the way it evaded. Tantalus.

“What would you think they'd like?”

For a few seconds, Johnny was silent. As though deep in thought.

“All they'd want is a song. During Sunday's mass, Father, could you just, well, have the, uh, pianoman? Up there? Could you have him play this song my mom used to sing? I can bring the sheet down on, uh, Friday.”

“Not much time to practice.”

“It's a simple song. And, well, I'd like to sing. If that's alright.”

For a moment, the priest faltered. Did he see through the glammer for a moment? Doubtfully. Maybe he was just afraid his singing voice was shit.

“It's, just, it's not something we usually do.” A cough. “But I understand. We can work it in after Eucharist, if that's acceptable.”

Johnny smiled, and he said, “Why, that'll be just perfect. Thank you. Thank you so fuckin' much. Pardon my language, Father. Pardon. I'm just so excited.” And he had taken the man's hands, pumping them up and down.

The priest flinched at the touch and the roughness. Johnny's grip was tight enough that his knuckles were white. His eyes flashed.

“Your hands are so hot. Are you, are you okay?”

Johnny threw back his head and laughed. A long, drawn out buzzing drone. Louder and louder, bordering on the obscene. Until it cut. Almost like a plug had been pulled. And then he said, “Oh, you know fat guys like me. We run hot, Father. We run fuckin' hot as balls.”

“Oh,” he said. “Okay.”


Salt water hung in the air. Mostly the salt. The smell of fish, absolutely disgusting. Like an open wound? Gangrene. Except that was almonds. This was a nutty kind of fish, maybe? Or a bug. A cut open bug.

The ship did not sail smoothly. The sea roiled. She stepped to a rail. Down into the depths. The water flowed stained glass. The pieces jutting against each other and outward, flowing inward and outward, but never mixing. Like oil on the surface of a bubble. Oil in a bubble?

“Trouble, trouble.” A voice at the prow. “Did you write my song?”

The sails were green and brown. Emblazoned with a golden bug. She didn't recognize it. No one was at the wheel, but she knew the ship was going a route. Left and right. Swaying, almost. The wood was wet. It was slick. So slick. Stifling scent. Like rot, but heavy sweet. She could barely smell it.

Tantalus sits in the old gum tree.

“Yes.”

“I knew you would, Veronica. Dreams are persuasive. And you always like a challenge, don't you?”

The air was stifling. Hot. No breeze from the sea, even though the waves pelted the ship's sides as though something were slapping them. Sea foam sprayed into the air. Into her mouth. The taste of salt. Salt and bitter herbs. Long walks. Long, empty stretches of desert. Was he the desert or the salt? Was he the giver of the bread or the golden calf?

(a thing older than time as old as god or maybe it is god and you need to wake up we need to wake up and we need to not be party to this you stupid bitch i love us but come on come on come on)

“Or the thing that breathed the name of the calf in their ears? What does it matter? Besides, I don't think I do Jewish things yet. Give me time, Veronica. I'm a boy who's good at learning. An eager boy.”

“What?”

The thing at the prow was at the ship's wheel then. A captain's hat. A hint of something. Tri-cornered. A jacket like the armored wings of a beetle.

“Sing for me. Sing me the song I gave you. Give me the words and the notes.”

“What is this for? You never told me. What is this for? I just, I just woke up and wrote it. I don't, I don't know why I wrote it.”

The thing in her dreams, the thing that was her dad and everyone's dad, a bug that lived in the earth for a billion trillion eons, ages beyond Gods and beyond time, before it crept up beneath the foundation of the house and broke through more than topsoil, broke into your basement and got right in the washing machine. The thing smiled. She knew all this, because she was the first mate.

“First mates write the songs,” it said.

“Where will we play?”

“You won't be there.”

The waves continued unabated.

The thing shaped like a man shaped like a bug shaped like a man had a violin on his shoulder. The strings were wrong. Locks of hair pulled taut. Black and blonde and red and one platinum streaked with a greenblue like a parrot, startling in its beauty before he took his fingers to them and plucked a note that sounded more like meat thudding against stone than anything close to a string.

“Needs tuning,” it sang.

What was that noise? Behind its voice. It sounded like the summer. Like those things in the trees. What were those?

“Sing with me.”

“But you don't know the words,” she said. And

(don't please don't)

above them, there was a noise like a buzzing. Droning. It reminded her of an old friend's noise music. Of GameBoy Colors pressed against exposed wire. A harsh noise wall with a kind of a warble, an organic agency that echoed through what was that wood like a flute maybe. A great squawking buzz, and it was a kind of heat, a magnet that pulled her upward. The sea bubbled, and the glass on the surface, that was the surface and the bottom and the middle, cracked, and she didn't see it, but she could hear it cut through the monotone.

“Don't look up,” it said. “Sing for me. I know the words, even when I don't.”

Veronica did not tremble. A void above them. A living thing. A wide, open nothing like a percussive behind the all there was and ever would.

The words meant nothing. But each one was important. Syllables, sounds, all put together in the perfect order. The math, in the waking hours, had eluded her. And here, it was hardly more understandable. But she had sang it in the flesh. And nothing had happened to her.

So, to this thing in her dreams, Veronica performed the song it had requested. To its exacting stipulations.


“Are you the, uh, pianist?” Cocking his head, but no TOK-TOK-TOK, just a small crack of bone. But loud enough that the organist winced. “Organist, right? Funny how both sound so dirty, right?” In the choir, there was a kind of reverence. So high above the pews, all laid out in beautiful rows.

The organist was another small man. He was as large as Johnny was, physically, but there was a smallness to most men that Johnny found pitiable. Cousin Johnny cracked both thumbs, and the organist said, “What do you mean?”

“Male organ. Penis. Come on, buddy. You never heard this before?” Johnny clutched the paper in his fingers, tight on the paper like sausage that didn't leave a grease stain. “But yeah, I hope Father Tim told you about the special request?”

The sheet music, pressed into the man's chest. “Of course, of course.” And he scanned it, brow furrowing. Oh, a man who could read music so quickly? What a phenom! Truthfully, Johnny was impressed when the man said, “It's an odd song, sir. It, it doesn't really seem like it would sound all too nice, to be honest. Sir.”

“My mother wrote it.”

“Oh.”

“Well, dictated it. It was something, something she always hummed, when she made me.” Only half a lie, maybe. Didn't the humans enjoy more of a story? Johnny's skin, red hot, sweat. He could feel the glands, each releasing their putrid waters to cool him. But Johnny ran hot. Especially when he was so close.

“And you're, uh, going to sing, Johnny? Do you, do you have any singing training? If you'd like, we can practice together. I think it might be for the best. The song is very odd.”

“No.”

“No?”

“No.”

“Oh,” said the organist. “To which?”

“I've never been properly trained, of course. But my parents always said I had a fine set of pipes, you know. I always thought I had more than one good set of pipes, if you catch my drift.” The guffaw echoed throughout the empty church in a way that Johnny relished. To command attention in the house of salvation, of purity. Of change and growth and love. So much love.

“That's fine. That's fine. So, are you available to, uh, practice before the mass?”

“Sorry, sorry. I got a lot to attend to. What with the cremation. And the, uh, you know. Monetary stuff. I never had a mind for that, you know. Feels wrong to even talk about it in, you know, my father's house, but this is just a lot for me to do. Only child, you know. One begotten and not made, you know what I'm saying jingles man?”

“I understand, Johnny. I really do. But if you could just stop once before it'd be a really big help.” Mewling. God, his lips were so thin. Johnny wanted to tear them from his face. Why even have them? “Could you come by tomorrow?”

“No,” said Johnny. “I believe I said no, pianoman. I don't like to repeat myself. You been asking me to repeat myself quite a bit. That usually what you do to a mourning man, pianoman?”

Electricity. Johnny relished this as much of the minute machinations of the human body as it ran through all of its vital resources in an attempt to keep up with what Johnny demanded of it. This was electricity of a different kind. Social electricity? One man won, and one man lost. This was a dance, but Johnny preferred to bludgeon. To cajole. To come in low and then promise the stars. Tear out their testicles. Make them wear it. Hello, dolly! Eat it, you bastard. Eat it and choke on it until you see my Father and tell him that Johnny's coming.

“No, no. I'm sorry.” A blush, high on his cheeks.

All of the flesh were the same, but at least now he understood what made him different from them. Their imprisonment within was permanent. But his could be alleviated. And would.

“I'll see you at the mass, pianoman. I promise, once you play it, the tune'll grow on you. And trust me, I got the words down to heart. And it really makes a big difference when you hear it. You'll love it. One of those things you'll never get out of your head.”


The spice and dust of old books was romantic, sure, but the particulates in the air were like old spices that lodged into your lungs, Veronica, and the flesh would go over and over and over like a bump like a pearl, except this pearl was a tumor all for you, beautiful and made of knowledge and ink and—

“Quiet in the library,” it said. Voice a slur, coming from her elbow. She took the book, one in the countless rows. It was dry to the touch, but her fingers touched a grease and came onto her fingers like burnt. Did someone put it in the oven? Why was the book so hot? She opened it, and the book said, in words and in voice and in picture and in particulate, each one, hand in hand, coming to her lungs and to her brains to get down into the flesh and get things working in a bad way, “I'm not going to be here for long this time, you know.”

“Oh, okay,” she said.

The book's carapace chittered, and she screamed, dropping it. Legs came from the paper, and it situated itself, capering back and forth before remembering how to walk. And then it was a man. There was no transformation. The man was a book and a bug and a wood and a glass and a sand, but it was also a man who was fat and had glasses shaped like her

(your dad didn't look like that)

dad's. Her dad. The bug.

She took its hand.

It led her down endless rows. Its hand was hot. Something made a noise like the summer from the trees and

(cicada song you looked it up it's cicada song)

the books were all clamoring for her. Staying in the bookshelves, but the pull was undeniable. They wanted her in the stacks. Forever touching and reading and perusing and browsing and—

“I want to thank you for giving form to the thing that was inside of me. I'm going to join with something greater. I'm going to meet my parents. My parent. The two in one. And then we will be the three in one. All great things become greater, you understand.”

“Uh, okay.” And then, “What does a song have to do with it?”

The bookshelves twisted further and further, almost intersecting at points, but still he pulled her through them. Throughout and throughin. Throbbing. This was wrong, and the wood in the paper was everywhere in the shelves and in the walls and the floors.

And the thing that was her dad and the cicada all in one turned to her with a TOK-TOK-TOK, and it said, “I'm going to put so much of me and mine into so many, that I don't think my parents can stay dead.”

Except, Veronica knew dead also meant asleep. It also meant cocooned. It meant hibernation, and it meant—


The song that Johnny had gotten from the dreams of the magical girl was ready. The mass had been boring, sadly. Johnny had not touched it. He had not brought back anything into it. No vitality. No salvation. Just emptiness. Nothing to touch the thing greater that had made him. Nothing for his daddy or his mommy. Nothing for anyone, really.

But then, the priest said, “Now, my children, a new member of our flock, John…” and he trailed. Johnny smiled. “Is going to perform a song in honor of his mother and father. This mass has been offered up to them. Johnny has informed me it's a song his mother had written. It, uh, doesn't, doesn't have a name, I think.”

The priest was sweating. Johnny could smell it from the choir. The pianoman had been tense the whole mass. Probably nervous about the moment of truth. Perhaps nervous about the bloodstain that rippled from Johnny's collar down his shirt.

The body wasn't going to last much longer. He ran too hot for these things to last long. And he was not ready for the cross. But for an awakening.

Johnny coughed and took the microphone. The pianoman began to play, and Johnny prodded him, putting up a finger and shaking his head. The pianoman stopped. Johnny smiled.

“I just wanna apologize if this isn't the best thing you heard all morning. I can't touch the beautiful ladies I got up here,” and he gestured at the choir within the choir. All in red robes. Most old. Barely singing, so much as croaking. “But I hope you all enjoy it.”

And as the discordance began, so did Johnny begin to sing.

The words were as nonsensical as the song. The priest coughed from his chair, having moved from the pulpit. He stared at the choir. So, too, did those in pews turn to catch the man who was singing nonsense.

This did not last long.

The screams began in earnest once the first verse was finished.

The altar was black. There was no priest. No altar boys. There was a space of darkness, sparkling, bright darkness that had taken over. One man ran to the oblivion. Possibly the son of one of them. He fell into the darkness. As soon as his form hit it, it was blown upward then downward, plunged forward into nothingness.

The screams died out as the mouths of those in the very full pews hung open.

The pianoman kept playing, but his mouth, too, hung open, tongue out stupidly. Like a dog. Reaching over, Johnny pulled it from him like taffy, dropping it off to the floor below with a plop.

From their mouths, there was something like a glowing ball of light. It wasn't formful so much as formless, but it gave the impression of a ball. It tore from their bodies in gouts of blood, pulling out intestines and leaving them cut and charred as they turned up the heat. They flowed into the center of the room and then came together.

It was something like a hand, really. A probe. An eye. A touching finger, so rough and scratchy.

The song was over, because the pianoman's fingers no longer worked.

The church was quiet as Johnny walked down the steps from the choir into the silence. Light, morning light, spilled in from the stained glass. Johnny had always loved stained glass best. The energy, their energy, the ones who had listened to his song so well, shone in facets like a gem but flowed over itself like a living microbe. Johnny raised his hand, and the flowing orb crept to the darkness that had overtaken the altar.

Johnny followed it.

“Mommy?” he said.

“Daddy?” he said.

The souls of all the dearly departed, under the mercy of Johnny the Son, may they rest in the bowels of the Cicada, touched the darkness and fell forward.

The light it provided was little, but it illuminated what was not a void but the home of something great and large. Sparkling lights, colors in the darkness. Feelers. Chitin.

Johnny smiled, and he stepped in.

The darkness fell away from the altar.

The priest and the altar boys were nowhere to be seen. The blood of the congregation pooled in brown sticky, drying puddles around their feet.

Ten o'clock mass would be soon.


Hi! My competitor, in this no-holds barred killathon, has also written a great piece.

Check out UraniumEmpire's story here.


Tyrone Joins The FamilySometimes Manna Is Just a Cicada Shell → This Tale